Britain’s second-biggest airport, Gatwick, will soon be running autonomous shuttle service to carry passengers to their respective planes. Gatwick airport has announced that it will begin a six-month trial of the vehicles in the summer. This service will cut costs and improve safety. The plan is to carry the passengers from the terminal to their flights. The trial will be focusing on the North and South terminals initially. In this trial, no passengers or planes will be involved, rather it will be focusing on airport workers.
The driverless buses will have the task of taking the staff between two terminals. If the trial is successful, they will move to the next step of carrying passengers. The driverless buses are expected to be cheaper and much more efficient. When the trial of carrying the staff is successful, Gatwick Airport will start using the scheme to include pushback tugs. These are used to steer planes and passengers to and from the terminal. According to an estimate, almost 45 million passengers go through Gatwick Airport each year.
The trials are being carried out by Oxford-based software company Oxbotica. It is considered to be first of its kind. Heathrow Airport is already using driverless pods, however, they work on a fixed network between a car park and Terminal 5. British Government announced that it will revise its guidance on autonomous vehicles so that they can be tested without a driver. According to British government, the vehicles will be available for general use by 2021. Cathal Corcoran, chief information officer at Gatwick, said, “If this trial proves successful, we could have an Uber-like service operating across the airfield which staff can hail when they need to travel. Much more research will be needed, but ultimately this could be the start of widespread use of autonomous vehicles on airfields across the world. The new technology is a more efficient way to manage vehicles and could lead to a reduction in the number of vehicles required, their associated costs and harmful emissions.”
The International Air Transport Association has also listed more than 40 possible users for autonomous vehicles. They will also be used to improve operations at the airport. They include the introduction of driverless buses to take passengers to and from the planes to their stands and vice versa. Graeme Smith, Oxbotica chief executive, Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority said, “Airports offer an interesting domain for our autonomous driving software. There is a huge diversity of vehicles, each with a specific mission. The challenge of choreographing all of the activity around an individual plane or in support of airport operations is immense and we look forward to working with Gatwick on this initial pilot that will demonstrate our technology carrying staff around the airfield.”